“Walmart’s choice was an application-specific wireless system from Powerfleet.”
Walmart Stores, Inc. is the world’s largest retailer, with nearly 6,200 stores and wholesale clubs across 26 countries, more than 800,000 associates worldwide, and revenue of more than $486 billion in fiscal 2014. The company has been termed “most admired retailer” by FORTUNE magazine.
Walmart also enjoys a reputation as a leader in supply chain technology and efficiency. It invented the practice of sharing sales data via computer networks with major suppliers and has been a global innovator in the use of wireless technology – warehouse management systems (WMS) and radio frequency (RF) data communication systems, for example – to track and manage the flow of goods though its distribution centers.
Never satisfied with the status quo when it comes to improving operations, Walmart began looking at wireless technology for another application: controlling and monitoring forklifts and industrial vehicles that move merchandise inside its distribution centers. More than 100 such vehicles are utilized in a typical Walmart distribution facility.
Walmart developed a list of required and desired functions for the “ideal” industrial vehicle management system.
For productivity management, Walmart wanted to implement new activity metrics to better analyze and optimize the utilization of vehicles and operators. Management also wished to achieve better asset visibility, including a more detailed understanding of time- motion history. In addition, Walmart wanted to enhance work assignment communication, especially in response to unexpected changes in task priorities.
What behavior do you want to manage, and what reaction to that behavior would you like?
For safety management, Walmart wanted to establish reliable vehicle access control, to ensure only properly trained operators could use equipment. A more easily managed method of completing, recording and archiving vehicle inspection checklists was also required. Impact sensing was also on the wish list, to increase visibility of unsafe driving and reduce accidental damage costs. Finally, Walmart wanted to consider how a fleet management system might influence maintenance efficiencies (for planning and executing preventive maintenance schedules, identifying emerging vehicle problems earlier, and establishing a better way to lock-out/tag-out equipment in need of maintenance).
Because industrial vehicles are mobile, they are inherently difficult to track, especially in a large distribution center (where they can easily “disappear” among rows of tall, merchandise-filled storage racks). It was obvious to Walmart that an automated wireless technology was needed to manage its many mobile industrial vehicles.
Walmart conducted an extensive review of available wireless vehicle tracking solutions, including those that could use Walmart’s existing wireless local network (2.4 GHz), those that used a cellular- based subscription service (like GPRS), and those that used a standard RFID spectrum (900 MHz).
Using the existing wireless network seemed logical and convenient on the surface, but it would have required every vehicle-mounted device to have its own network IP address, which has significant cost and labor implications for technical support and network upgrades. Furthermore, it was deemed desirable to keep vehicle management data signals segregated from the data transmissions of mission critical applications, like the WMS.
For wireless systems using cellular-based services, the main problem was ongoing cost – a per-asset, per-month payment that never ends (and that rises if data transmissions exceed a minimum level).
Such systems also rely on GPS receivers for asset location, which do not work indoors, where GPS signals are blocked by the roof of the building. Although cellular-based systems are common for over-the-road vehicle tracking, they are unsuitable for tracking vehicles in and around a distribution facility, where localized, no-cost RF communications are possible.
Ultimately, Walmart’s choice was an application specific wireless system from Powerfleet that uses the same unlicensed, cost-free 900 MHz radio frequency spectrum utilized by the RFID systems widely deployed in Walmart’s supply chain.
Powerfleet is a leader in wireless asset management solutions, with a robust, technically advanced system specifically designed to manage fleets of industrial vehicles. Technical innovation, however, is not enough when it comes to deploying a wireless vehicle information technology at the world’s leading retailer. Just as important: experience installing hardware on a wide range of vehicle types; system configurability and flexibility; quality and user-friendliness; implementation and post-implementation support capabilities; and, perhaps most of all, demonstrated success partnering with customers to produce a solid bottom-line return on investment.
Powerfleet, a NASDAQ-listed public company, has the experience, financial strength, and human resources – including extensive engineering, training, and field support teams – to configure, deploy, support, and sustain its systems effectively across large- scale enterprises as well as individual facilities. In addition, Powerfleet helps customers generate a significant return on investment through a process of close, proactive engagement known as AdvantageTM support service.
Walmart deployed its first wireless Vehicle Management System (VMS) from Powerfleet in a single facility as a pilot program to measure system benefits. After an extensive evaluation, the VMS was expanded across multiple distribution facilities. “The VMS delivered not only the promised safety and control benefits, but also significant incremental productivity improvements, above and beyond what our WMS was providing,” explained one Walmart supply chain executive.
As a productivity system, the VMS provided:
For safety management, the VMS provided:
Together, these tools have provided Walmart (1) new ways to drive continuous improvement in material handling operations for increased productivity
and throughput and (2) new process controls for safety management. Just as important, the VMS has proved easy to use for the many Walmart stakeholders who interface with the system – vehicle operators, facility line management, information technology staff, and corporate management alike. In addition, from a technical operating perspective, the system’s wireless communication system has worked effectively alongside other wireless systems and processes, including Walmart’s extensive WMS and RFID systems.
“While we will not divulge the exact return on our investment in the VMS,” said the Walmart supply chain executive, “suffice to say we have found it well worthwhile to invest further in this technology.”